Welcome to Asia Catalyst’s monthly media roundup.
Public awareness is key to understanding and promoting human rights. Here is this last month’s news reflecting developments for some of the key affected populations that we work with.
This month, the Philippine Congress eliminated funding in the 2016 national budget for contraception, cutting vital support needed for Filipinos to protect themselves from HIV and sexually transmitted infections, as well as access to safe birthing-space and family planning services.
Reuters. “Philippines contraception funding cut will fuel HIV and maternal deaths: activists.”
TIME. “Philippines: Cuts to Contraception Funding Slammed by Rights Groups.”
Human Rights Watch. “Dispatches: Backward Step for Philippine Women.”
The Malaysian Insider. “Philippines Says Adequate Contraceptives Funds Despite Budget Cut.”
The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, ratified by the Philippines, obligates governments to take steps “necessary for the prevention, treatment, and control of epidemic…diseases.” The Philippine government is thus obligated to progressively realize the right to health on behalf of its people using all available resources. In a dispatch this month, Human Rights Watch argues that international human rights law ensures access to condoms and related HIV prevention services as part of the right to the highest attainable standard of health.
The Philippines’ budget cuts this month come despite a hard-won 2012 national reproductive health law guaranteeing free birth control at government health centers. The cuts will endanger the country’s tenuous public health and family planning systems, and have major consequences for marginalized groups. Research published in 2013 indicates that up to 50 percent of pregnancies in the country are unintended, largely due to the lack of availability of modern contraceptive services. Klaus Beck, country representative of the United Nations Population Fund, was quoted in Philippine media saying that reproductive and sexual health services would be ineffective “without funding for contraceptives, an essential element of any family planning services.”
The cuts also run counter to best practices in combatting the HIV epidemic. According to UNAIDS, the Philippines is “one of only a handful of countries at risk of a full-blown AIDS epidemic,” with an estimated 21 new cases each day. Access to condoms and related HIV prevention services and equitable access to contraceptives is vital to mitigating the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
On January 24, Indonesia’s minister of research, technology, and higher education, Muhammad Nasir, declared that LGBT lifestyles were not “in accordance with the values and morals of Indonesia.” He went on to “forbid” the existence of LGBT-oriented groups or clubs on college campuses, but later recanted, stating the LGBT clubs could exist, but could not conduct “any activities that violate the conduct of decency, such as public displays of affection or making love on campus.”
International Business Times. “LGBT Rights 2016: Gay Students Should Be Banned At Indonesia Universities From Showing Affection, Says Minister.”
As part of its obligations under international human rights law and domestic Indonesian law, Indonesia has a responsibility to protect the rights of LGBT people to non-discrimination, privacy, and education. Minister Nasir’s comments are the latest in a surge of public statements from high level figures in Indonesia denouncing LGBT people over the past year. As reported previously, in March 2015 the Ulema Council, the country’s most influential Muslim clerical organization, issued a fatwa calling for same sex behavior to be punished by caning. In October, Sharia police in Aceh province arrested a pair of young women for “hugging in public.” These words and actions do not exist in a vacuum and are highly troubling for the country’s LGBT community and human rights activists.
A 2013 Pew Research Center report about global attitudes towards gays and lesbians found that 93 percent of Indonesians did not believe that homosexuality should be “accepted by society,” making the country one of the least tolerant nations surveyed. In 2014, a USAID/UNDP report on LGBT rights in the country found that LGBT persons are “often prevented from living meaningful lives and are denied opportunities that others take for granted.”
To many Indonesians, Minister Nasir’s comments legitimize already prevalent discrimination against this marginalized group. Since his statement, messages have circulated online calling on the public to establish anti-LGBT groups on campuses. Without the public support of government leaders to promote and protect the rights of LGBT persons, the LGBT community in Indonesia will continue to suffer from discrimination with little recourse for redress.
As reported by Asia Catalyst last month, a gay man in China has filed China’s first same-sex marriage lawsuit. This month,the Chinese court accepted the lawsuit,launching landmark proceedings for the LGBT community.
New York Times. “Couple’s Lawsuit is First Test for Same-Sex Marriage in China.“
South China Morning Post. “Gay man sues for right to marry in China’s first same-sex marriage lawsuit.”
The acceptance of this case by the Changsha Furong District People’s Court marks the first time a Chinese court has agreed to hear a lawsuit on same-sex marriage. This action signifies that the judiciary system is, for the first time, open to discussing marriage equality for LGBT people. Regardless of the outcome of this specific lawsuit, the upcoming weeks will be significant for China’s LGBT community, which has only recently begun to gain visibility in the country.
Bridging the Gap, an international HIV organization focused on improving the health and human rights of LGBT people, sex workers, and people who use drugs, published Health and rights for key populations last month. The report details the 2011-2015 results of nearly one hundred local and international organizations working to achieve universal access to HIV/STI prevention, treatment, care, and support for key populations, and prominently features the work of sex worker organizations.
Global Network for Sex Workers Projects.“NSWP members highlighted in bridging the gaps 2015 report.”
Bridging the Gaps. “Health and Rights for Key Populations Report.”
Globally, HIV prevalence among sex workers is 12 times greater than amongst the general population, and continues to rise in many countries. The reasons beyond this trend are myriad, but include stigma, discrimination, and violence. Punitive frameworks designed to punish sex workers continue to prevent the group from realizing their full rights. This prevailing marginalization of sex workers effectively prevents their participation in public forums and policy decisions on policies that directly affect them. The Bridging the Gap report is an important evidentiary document of the impact that sex workers can have on behalf of their communities, given proper support.
The substantive involvement of key populations in HIV prevention, treatment, and care is necessary to combat the HIV epidemic and protect the right to health. According to UNAIDS, sex workers, LGBT persons, and people who use drugs are “key providers of prevention, treatment, and care” that create the “social, political, legal, and financial environment needed to respond to the epidemic.” Activities implemented within the Bridging the Gaps program measurably increased awareness of, and support for, the importance of sex worker-friendly services. National and international funding bodies should look to these results when considering whether they should fund sex worker groups to run programs on behalf of their community.